Thursday, May 14, 2009

Anger Addiction

At the gym the other day, I was on the treadmill watching Fox News with the sound turned off. Video clips were the usual snippets of dramatic tragedy—people searching the ashes of their former homes, Pakistani women weeping over the caskets of loved ones, photos of missing children. What struck me most, though, were expressions on the faces of the commentators and guests: they all looked hostile and angry.

That’s what I dislike about Fox News television—it’s a hostile, angry station. (I should add that the mobile print version doesn’t reflect that attitude—I read it on my cell phone all the time.) When my husband’s channel surfing, it’s instantly apparent from the next room when he happens to land on Fox News—the voices are several decibels louder than on other stations and angry enough to trigger the fight-or-flight response.

And that, apparently, must be the attraction for a lot of people.

As an only child, I grew up in a fairly quiet household and missed out on sibling rivalry and the squabbling that usually goes with it. By nature and habit, I may be more than usually averse to anger. I tend to avoid people who are habitually hostile and angry in their attitudes. Hence, I have an aversion to Fox News television.

Unfortunately, the problem with Fox News is not just aesthetic. I believe that it is a major reason for the extremism and hostility of so many of the well-intentioned right-leaning people in this country. In 1964, Marshall McLuhan introduced the phrase “the medium is the message,” and his analysis was never more relevant that it is today: the medium (e.g., the anger and hostility of Fox News television) embeds itself in the message. Inevitably, the medium affects how the message is interpreted.

To me, this explains how otherwise intelligent, even well-educated people can develop (and, against all evidence, maintain) a paranoid, “us-against-them” mentality when it comes to national affairs—and get so angry about everything. Fox News creates a reality in which a few brilliant, courageous, morally superior anti-heroes (the Cantors, Palens, maybe even—God help us—Cheneys) lead the charge against an evil, deluded, scheming majority who are apparently mesmerized by the Great Socialist. (It wouldn’t matter which Democrat won the election—the essential elements of the plot would be the same.)

I have a couple of problems with this. First, it’s impossible to be angry and think at the same time. Secondly, anger—like many emotions—can literally be addictive. Like all addictions, habitual anger drives the thought process, causing people to rationalize and justify their feelings. (“If I-we-they are so angry at _________,” the thinking goes, “he must be a really bad person.”)

When emotions lead, thinking is skewed, and it can be impossible to have a rational discussion with people caught in this cycle. The anger and hostility of the far right—stoked continually by radical media like Fox News television—make it extremely difficult to have a relaxed, mutually respectful conversation in this country between “conservatives” and the rest of us—including members of that newly endangered species, the “moderate” Republican.


Idna said...

Oh, my. I see you have signed on to the latest Dem/liberal attack line. When they do not have a legitimate argument on a topic, they ATTACK THE MESSENGER. All the way down from Obama to the crazies on MSNBC and every one in between, one hears mocking ridicule of FOX. Getting kind of OLD!

I don't recall any other President specifically taking on certain broadcasters by name as Obama does to try and shut them down. Boo-hoo, the big old meanie FOX NEWS and Rush Limbaugh, etc. hurt his poor wittle feelings. How trivial! He really should review how a president should act.

But the funny thing is that all the adoring followers of this so-called-president then repeat his nonsense. Come on! Quit the lemming thing! If you have an issue to discuss then do it. Quit the whining and crying and stop demonizing people who disagree with the 'Great Socialist' (your words!)

Here's a message for Obama and the lemmings .. There will be people on both sides of any issue .. DEAL WITH IT!

Oh ... and, Jane, maybe you should turn the sound UP when you are watching FOX. For someone who blogs constantly about being OPEN MINDED, you may find some new and interesting ways of looking at things. Don't worry, the brainwashing will not kick in right away. Go ahead, TRY IT, you may LIKE IT.

Citizen Jane said...

I rest my case.

Citizen Jane said...

Idna, the topic of this post is the role of anger in distorting rational thinking. Would you care to address that at all?

Regarding my attitudes and beliefs, that's one thing you can't blame on the president. I come to my own conclusions. My aversion to the irrational, destructive half-truths and negative attitudes on Fox News dates from long, long before I ever heard the name "Obama."

Idna said...

Dear Jane,
Let's just look at these "irrational, destructive half-truths ... on Fox."

Last week, for example, Obama did a 180 on several of his previous stands on issues.

1. As we remember, after disclosing CIA secrets to our enemies, he was going to release photos of the interrogations this week. Fox (as well as some other responsible media) had Dick Cheney, among others, to warn about the dangers of this move. Miraculously, Obama reversed himself and agreed with these proponents of "irrational, destructive half-truths" and did exactly as they suggested.

2. The GITMO trials. Again, Obama reversed himself on the military tribunals last week. His new decision about military vs civil trials is in line with the many discussions that have taken place on FOX for a long, long time.

3. Obama actually WARNED that the very deficit spending that he has been signing his name to for the last 4-months, was unsustainable!

“We can’t keep on just borrowing from China,” Obama said at a town-hall meeting in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. “We have to pay interest on that debt, and that means we are mortgaging our children’s future with more and more debt.”

SAY WHAT!!???! FOX been pounding this exact same thing for years. Looks like the Big O is watching FOX with the sound turned UP!

I hope he keeps it up. There's a lot more he can learn from people who have experince, understand the issues and lay it out for him in a way that corresponds to real life as opposed to the lofty campaign rhetoric that he is used to.

So let me ask you this, Jane. When Obama says something, then changes his mind to the opposite view, which happens to be the opinion that FOX and Dick Cheney hold, does he become irrational? Or was he irrational before?

Citizen Jane said...

Dear Idna,

If you'd listen to Obama himself, rather than the out-of-context sound bites you get on your preferred channel, you would see that in some cases, policy is evolving. In others, the "contradiction" is apparent and not real. In some cases, the president has changed his mind. He is constantly gathering information and ideas from the best experts available on any subject. One of the things I admire about him is that he has the integrity and moral courage to change his mind when the situation warrants it.

By the way, I never said Cheney is not a rational man. On the contrary, he is cold, calculating, and consistently--even savagely--rational. (One can be rational without being honest or right. One can think rationally and be morally reprehensible. In fact, that's a good description of some of history's greatest monsters.)

Idna said...

Ok, Jane, how about argeeing on some ground rules. I will accept that you "come to your own conclusions" and are not part of the "Obama Sheeple" and I ask that you, in turn, accept that I do not get spoon fed my beliefs. I regularly go to "the source" of many, many things ... including verbatims of Obama's statements.

Having said that, I had a little different take on Obama constantly changing his mind.

You say, "One of the things I admire about him is that he has the integrity and moral courage to change his mind when the situation warrants it." I, also, am really glad that he is finally doing this. During the campaign, he promised all things to all people in order to be elected, now he realizes that responsible, grown-up decisions need to be made. I believe (and you don't) that he was totally unprepared and unqualified to be president. You say, "he constantly [is] gathering information and ideas from the best experts available on any subject." As well he should!

I only wish that he would do the gathering of information FIRST before making dumb decisions that he eventually has to do a U-turn on. Or decisions that will cause irreparable harm to the country.

Citizen Jane said...

Idna, the last administration made such a mess of things that the country is facing unprecedented problems. The current economic crisis is unique. And in the old regime, there were many secrets, some of which are just coming to light. In a situation that is rapidly evolving, it's impossible to know it all before hand.

Thankfully, the president and his team are highly educated, very sharp, and adaptible. They're making rapid progress getting things turned around.

I know that's going to set you off. Please don't bother to respond with another anti-Obama diatribe. I'm just telling it like I see it.

If you could just restrain the sarcasm--"Sheeple," "lemmings"--maybe we could have an intelligent, mutually respectful discussion about one issue at a time.

redhotandcool said...

When my elderly mother moved in with me, she insisted on subscribing to the level of cable that included foxnews. 100 other channels, but it always crept back to foxnews. Family visiting? Fox news. Checking the weather? then over to foxnews. Babies and kittens and local farm shares? Bah, over to foxnews. Addiction. Absolute addiction. To what? I refer to it as decibel news. Adversarial news. Same items repeated again and again, at volume. Ken and Barbie-in-a-slinky-dress news. My mother responds to it the way someone else responds to a boxing match, it gooses up her blood pressure and adrenaline and she calls it good. She shouts at the screen. I happily took a night job to avoid it all. Guess what? I am a Federal employee, and my workplace installed multiple televisions along the corridors and multiple in the cafeteria area and they are all tuned news. In-your-face, biased, limited, repetitive...oooh, wait, they announce repeatedly flashing screens that they are NOT biased, so I guess I must be wrong because that makes it true. It's like a Vonnegut reality.
Huh, I don't even watch it but I get an anger response just seeing it on. Turn it off, America. Just see if you can.